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Jakober, Marie.

Vancouver, New Star Books, c1985. 236pp. paper, ISBN 0-91957342-8 (cloth) $15.95, 0-91957343-6 (paper) $8.95. CIP

Reviewed by L. Maingon

Volume 14 Number 3
1986 May

If her first novel, The MindGods (Macmillan, 1976), made Marie Jakober a finalist in the 1974 new Alberta novelist competition, then there is no doubt that with her latest work, Sandanista, she has become a strong contender for the Governor General's Award, provided that political bias does not intervene. It is extremely rare to find a novel written with more skill and intellectual dexterity, which avoids didacticism while dealing with universal ethical issues within a limited historical situation. The difficulties faced by Jakober, didacticism, historical platitudes, facile stereotyping, sham intellectualism, economic determinism, and the temptation to vilify those who are considered to be "the oppressors," are resolved in a beautiful ironic style.

The plot itself, which is the closely woven story of three families who represent the three social classes, is relatively simple. Set in 1977, two years before the fall of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, the narrative core is a fragmented love story of two young people from opposite sectors of Managuan society; Daniel Chilian, twenty-two, and Pilar Zelaya, twenty. Their love is a choice for freedom that encompasses all the problems of Nicaraguan society. Their lots are thrown together by the very disparity of their social condition. Daniel and Pilar find a common bond in their need to free themselves from an oppressive patriarchal system that denies them a viable future. Pilar, as a young intellectual woman, discovers, through Daniel's political activism, that the individuality and value of her femininity are threatened by acquiescence to the social system by which she has been nurtured. The lot of women and of the poor are subject to the abuses of a male society thai establishes a system of privileges and double standards, ordained and maintained by brutal power, that deny meaning and value of life. Daniel and Pilar's love is contrasted with that of Pilar's sister, Yolanda, and her wealthy industrialist fiancÚ, Milan Yaldes. Whereas Daniel and Pilar give meaning to their lives by sharing in action that affirms a consciousness of the sanctity of life, no matter how physically degraded, Milan and Yolanda revel in a world built on pretensions that sustain the myth of the norm of power. Indeed, Milan's wealth is inherited from his father, who, like the majority of National Guard provincial governors, has made his fortune over the last decade through drug trafficking, racketeering, prostitution, and expropriation.

A number of secondary characters find themselves outside the main action, and are forced to reflect on the situation, again from various points of view. The tale is loosely embedded in that of the American cousin, Jadine's, visit. Jadine forms a non-involved parallel with Pilar. Both are haunted by the loss of elder brothers, whose memory pervades the search for meaning in the novel.

There is also the search of Pilar's fourteen-year-old brother, Leon, prematurally aged by circumstances, whose innocence tears him between the macho world of norm and expectation and a keen awareness of Yolanda's callous self-serving nature. Finally, there is Pepe, the Canadian priest, who discovers the necessity of liberation theology and ironically, remains a man without identity, frequently confused with Americans or British, and ever denied his own social identity.

This is a marvellously architectured novel whose subtle complexities eould be discussed endlessly. There are, however, two or three points of criticism that could be levelled at it. In the first place, given the sensitivity of the political context of this novel, it is difficult to justify the perspective taken by Jakober, through Jadine, vis-a-vis United States involvement in Nicaragua. Jadine is American; however she is too close to the narrator, and therefore an ill-intentioned critic could suggest that the entire book is anti-American propaganda. It is the eternal problem that only a Jew can tell a Jewish joke to make the audience laugh comfortably. This aspect might have been more successfully handled if Jadine had been made to speak through a third interlocutor. On the other hand, this also presents the interesting question of this novel's Canadian roots. Perhaps one day we will have to discuss at length the impact of the Vietnam war on Canadians; not only were we bombarded by the media, but we too took part in the genocide through our government's cooperation with Washington, through the communications hardware, the military hardware, and the chemicals we helped to provide, merely as a matter of commerce, Jadine might be Canadianized a bit, and would thereby gain in credibility.

A second criticism has to do with the format, Jakober's skill is undeniable within the limits of this novel. The form, however, js very traditional. Given the dialectic of norm and change that constitute the basis of her narration, this traditional format is somewhat out of step with the content. Furthermore, there is a typographical point that creates a contradiction in the intention of this novel. To set the stage, Jakober frequently uses bits of Spanish. Unfortunately, none of this Spanish is spelled with accents, thereby creating the strangest gibberish to one familiar with the language.The contradiction here is that Jakober reduces Spanish to a North American norm. The point is minor, but the fact is counter-productive.

This marvellous novel is a true ugly duckling presented in the most unappealing yellow paperback cover, but superbly printed on good quality bond.

L. Maingon, Dept. of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, B.C.
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